No one likes to wait for a site to load. I don’t. You don’t. And search engines really don’t.
While UX, keyword density, and site structure (among other things) dominate SEO and ranking-related conversations, site speed should play a more prominent role.
I have been working to build my own website and have learned valuable lessons about site speed along the way.
I want to pass these lessons on to you.
Google Made a Site Speed-Specific Algorithm Update
Everyone knows that site speed has a place in SEO talk.
But, did you know that in 2018 Google published a site speed-specific change to their algorithm? Called “the speed update,” the changes made a mobile site’s speed play a more prominent role in search as well as ads.
The update was necessary as well. At the time of its release, Google’s research showed that the chances of bounce increased 32% if site load time went up from one second to three seconds.
Bounce rate chances also increased to 90% if it went up to five seconds and 123% at 10 seconds or more.
The change certainly had a positive impact on the online user experience. User-centric performance metrics improved by 15% to 20%, and cart abandonment went down by 20% within a few months after the update was released.
So, what does it all mean?
Essentially: those with well-optimized pages will rank higher in search engines for their target keywords.
Conduct a keyword gap analysis, a process defined by Loganix as "identifying valuable keywords that your competitors rank well for, but you do not.”
When you find valuable keywords your competitors do not rank for, focus heavily on optimizing these pages for speed to increase the gap even further.
Site Speed Affects Purchase Intent
The importance of site speed goes beyond rankings alone. Google conducted a thorough review of mobile site speed’s impact on consumer willingness to spend.
Their report, called Milliseconds Make Millions, showed a massive ripple effect down the buyer journey from even a 0.1 second change in load time.
For example, a 0.1% decrease in a retail site’s load time caused a 9.2% increase in online spending.
For luxury brands, a similar increase in performance led to a 40% increase in site browsing and items being added to the cart.
Similar studies have found the same relationship between consumer activity and site load times. Google has said that two seconds is the ideal maximum site load time for an e-commerce site.
Better Site Speed Is a (Hidden) Competitive Advantage
So, we have established that Google loves a fast loading site, as do users. And yet most webmasters aren’t really paying attention.
A survey of 5.2 million mobile and desktop website pages found that most site load times were woefully inadequate.
For example, the average load time for a desktop page in this study was 10.3 seconds, while that of a mobile webpage was 27.3 seconds.
The average web page also takes 87.4% longer to load on mobile than desktop.
This is a huge opportunity for anyone who’s reading this. You can easily out-flank your competition simply by improving your site speed.
Not only will doing so increase your SERP presence, but it can bring down your bounce rate while increasing traffic too.
Reducing your site load time isn’t really all that difficult either. Here are three ways to do just that.
Optimize Your Site’s File Size
The first step here will be to reduce the number of requests your website files are causing.
An HTTP request is generated by each on-page element. The more elements your site has, the more requests it generates. Alas, this leads to slower site loads.
You can use Google Chrome’s Network Panel to find the number of HTTP requests a page is generating. Make a note of unnecessary requests and take them out.
Minifying your site code will also greatly help. Look for removable pieces of code, line breaks, and whitespace in your website’s files. While minification can be done manually, there are tools available as well:
- HTMLMinifier is ideal for dealing with HTML files.
- CSSNano can be used to compress CSS files.
If you have interactive elements of your website, these can often slow things down.
What is defined as interactive? Well, here is a great example from Preply:
Each time you click on the world map, it pulls more information.
If not correctly optimized and cached, this can slow load times dramatically.
Work with a developer to ensure your code is minimal and efficient.
Optimize Your Site Images
While images are essential to a good online experience, they can quickly eat into your site load time. This is especially true for e-commerce sites that use a lot of images, like Sleep Junkie, pictured here.
Even though most web pages weigh in at a hefty 2 MB these days, Google recommends keeping them under 500 KB. Of course this presents a challenge since images are usually the heaviest on-page component.
Compressing images is also a fine balancing act, since it reduces image quality. The best place to start will be selecting an appropriate image format.
- PNG images are high quality, but tend to be heavier so are ideal for simple drawings and text images.
- JPEG uses lossy compression and allows for better quality-size ratios, so can be used for regular photographs and complex graphics.
- Finally, Gifs are simple, low-resolution repeating images.
There are several ways you can use high quality images without adding to your site’s load time. A Content Delivery Network like AWS Cloudfront can be used to offload your images which can be served on demand.
Secondly, you can also set up your CMS to scale images site-wide. This way you can create a template for thumbnail images and how their full versions are displayed.
If you use WordPress, consider using the Imsanity plugin to setup image compression.
Alternatively, you can also use free web-based image compressors like Jpeg-Optimizer, Optimizilla, and Kraken to manually compress your site images.
Optimize Your Site’s Videos
Videos are usually the single biggest files your website can have.
So, even if you do keep the number of videos down, even a single file can slow down load time considerably. Like images, however, you have several options to compress video files to manageable limits.
It’s also best to move to an HTML5 video format like MP4 or WebM. Both are supported by most browsers and allow for acceptable compression-quality ratios.
You can use a video compression tool like Handbrake to reduce your video file sizes without sacrificing (much) quality too. Also, consider removing audio from videos that are muted.
A CDN can again be used to serve videos on demand here. While auto playing videos are best avoided, they should be set to play once the webpage has loaded completely.
Alternatively, you can simply embed your videos using a video streaming service like YouTube or Wistia.
This allows your site to send small chunks of content to the user, speeding up load times.
Site load times are only going to become more important moving forward.
Embed that learning into your technical learnings today. Change how you design and build.
It’s best to make these learnings an integral part of your digital strategy.
Alternatively, you can have a SEO agency take care of it for you. Since image optimization is part of SEO, a targeted campaign can help you create a properly formatted site right from the get go.
The choice is yours and your users – like Search Engines – will reward this attention to detail.